IN THE ARBORETUM TODAY
by Alfred Chiri
Donated by: Fullerton Arboretum and planted in 1998 (r.f.-02)
Common names: Wild lime, Indonesian lime, Bai makrut, Daun jeruk purut
Kaffir lime is a small tree that grows from 10 to 15 feet tall. The leaves are very distinctive, with a lower wing nearly as big as the actual blade. The tree is native to Southeast Asia. Cultivation of this plant in Asia has probably been done for such a long time that their earliest history is quite obscure.
The Kaffir lime is grown more for its fragrant and aromatic leaves. The leaves and the fruits are an essential ingredient in Asian cooking. The leaves, dark with a glossy sheen and the dark green rind of the Kaffir lime fruit give an incomparable flavor to certain Thailand dishes.
The fruit is green and round with a distinct nipple on one end and approximates the size of a Western lime (3 inches). The fruit has a thick rind with a bumpy and wrinkled surface, and in some areas is called "porcupine orange" or "leprous lime." As the fruit becomes older, the color fades to a yellowish-green.
The leaves and rind of the fruit have a perfume unlike any other citrus fruits. The juice of the fruit is seldom used in cooking. The peel of the fruit, with its high concentration of aromatic oils, is indispensable in many curry pastes and is one reason why Thai curries taste refreshingly unique.
The Kaffir lime grows from seed. The seedlings at a young stage are sensitive to frost. It will grow slowly for the first couple of years. It will grow easily in a container, but its fruits will be smaller and paler than those grown in the open ground.
As an adult plant it is hardy and will live through temperatures lower than 10º F. It needs full sun, good drainage, and should be fertilized throughout spring and summer. If you want to encourage soft growth, use nitrogen, but remember soft growth is susceptible to frost, so do it during months that the temperatures are in the 60's.
If you get frost damage on a plant and the top looks dead, don't cut that away. That protects the plant further down.
The Kaffir lime, besides being a spice, is used as an effective cleanser and a natural deodorizer. Kaffir lime shampoo leaves the hair squeaky-clean and invigorates the scalp. Kaffir lime has been used as natural bleach to remove tough stains.
In folk medicine the juice of the Kaffir lime is said to promote gum health. The fruit rind is known to have beneficial properties for the digestive system.